I’m in the Aldi parking lot, jogging from my van to the shopping carts with a quarter in my fist. I’m jogging because the two little girls are in the van waiting for me to bring the cart back and load them into it.
As I near the carts, I see two women standing near the open trunk of a car, which is pulled up behind another car. One of the women is trying to help the other woman by trying to jumpstart the vehicle. They are gesticulating helplessly. They look over to me.
“Do you know anything about this?” one of them asks. It’s a lovely day. A laugh escapes me as I apologetically tell her I’m so sorry; I know nothing about it. I step towards them a few paces to show my goodwill and willingness, coupled with total inability. Then I continue to watch the scene as I get my cart. Just at that moment, a bearded man of about 40 pulls up alongside them in a large truck.
“Oh—can you…?” the women say. It is clear that he has no other view.
And what I’ll never forget is the gratified look on his face, as he observes the helplessness before him and sees that right here, right now, he is going to be able to put himself and his truck to good use. There’s no hint of flirtation-attraction in his look. I see just a flash of undisguised, unadulterated joy. He is so ready to help those ladies, and so absolutely pleased to be the right man at the right time.
If this sounds like a silly gender stereotype to you, that’s fine; but just know that when I saw that man in the parking lot, I wasn’t thinking that’s a stereotype at all. I was just thinking, that’s a man feeling happy that he’s a man.
I pull into a tire place in my little town. They let you fill your tires for free here. I heft open the rear hatch of my van and pull a jogging stroller out, with two flat rear wheels.
Pushing it around the van, I suddenly become aware that I’ve never filled a tire of any kind before and I’m not quite sure how it’s done. I’m pretty handy with figuring something out (when motivated), but on the other hand, I’m also late to where I’m going.
Nearby, an employee of the station is doing something to a car up above his head. He looks over and gives me a question mark of a look, something along the lines of “Do you know how to do that?”
“Actually,” I say aloud. “I don’t really…”
And there’s that expression again, fleeting over his face for just an instant. It’s just the exact same look that I saw on the face of the man in the truck. Pleasure at this small opportunity to do something you know how to do, just because somebody else doesn’t know how to do it. Maybe a little bit of humor is back in there too, with both of the men—it’s funny to see a woman standing around when obviously all you have to do is put the nozzle on the thing and push in and close it up and…
But you’re there, and it’s your job now. So—pleasure.
Now, to bring the story a little closer to home. My friend recently described for me a look that she saw, and her description was so very familiar.
She was out shopping with her husband and two small children. Her oldest was acting up, and she was strolling her youngest and also trying to shop. She found herself, for a while, trying to control the antics of the older while still strolling the youngest and still trying to thumb through shirts on a rack, and her husband was nearby, doing that inimitable something husbands do in a department store.
Suddenly she realized her struggle was totally unnecessary. She straightened, smiled, told her husband, “You take it from here,” and walked across the aisle to another section with her youngest in tow.
She told me, “The first thing I saw was a look cross his face. It was a look of… relief? He was glad. He was glad that I was not overseeing, meddling, watching… that I was just leaving it to him because I trusted him to take care of it, and walking off. And I thought—Is that so rare, that I would see that look of relief on his face?”
I was struck immediately by her description of this scene, and it drew to my mind all kinds of similar scenarios.
Do I step aside often enough? I wondered. Do I give him a chance to do his job?
My husband and I are New York City. We’ve been married six years. We have come for four days to see the city and (ostensibly) to relax, although the latter is easier said than done in NYC.
We are riding the subway all the time, and my husband has downloaded a subway app on his phone, although I have preferred to use GoogleMaps because I think it works just as well. It is our third day. Already, I have caused us to miss a connection because I wasn’t sure Justin had gotten it right. I hesitated at just the last moment, and he was exasperated when we realized a second later that he’d been right. Also already, I have saved us once from taking a train going in the wrong direction.
Around the third day I start to notice that my husband is really enjoying his navigating, and has started using a paper map at least half the time just so he can get a better feel for the layout of Manhattan Island. I start to realize also that whatever vague ideas I have in my mind about me being a city girl and him being a country boy are pretty bogus in a place this size. I’ve been living in a small town for eight years; if I ever had any slick urban instincts, they have long since relaxed into the instincts of someone who regularly shops at Piggly Wiggly.
Anyway, I realized that morning that I had been pulling my weight in my own direction on a regular basis whenever we were finding a place. Why? Habit? There wasn’t time to analyze the whole trajectory of marriage-thus-far on the E train that morning, but I did make an adjustment to my thinking that day.
From that point on in our trip, I resolved to simply let him figure it out. Two heads weren’t needed; in this case what we really needed was one. I needed to put my hand in his and give myself the new job of letting him lead me around the city.
I was shocked to find that my constant input, so laboriously and tactfully given for two days, was apparently not crucial to his process. He was better at figuring the thing out alone than with somebody over his shoulder, or (worse) with somebody sitting next to him running a competing app with competing alternative routes.
Can’t imagine why anyone would find that annoying.
I don’t remember a single moment with a single look on his face that reminded me of the gentlemen with the cars or the man disciplining his child, but I remember a palpable settling coming over Justin from that point on. A satisfaction, that he was being allowed to do what he was ready to do all along.
Feeling around for a conclusion
I’d like to hear more stories from other women about what complementarian marriage looks like for you in the day to day. What are your habits in the home? Aside from big time life decisions, what are the everyday habits that you’ve found to cultivate honor and respect in the home? Things you say to him? Things you try not to say? Ways you show your trust in him, even when you’re not feeling it?
Asking for a friend.
I always thought that submission would be a piece of cake for me, because I had an idea that my personality was especially well-suited to letting a man lead. I was wrong. I didn’t understand that my instincts have been skewed by many things, most significantly my own heart. My desires are strong and my faith is weak; I find that when the stakes are high (my own real life, being lived out in real time), I have no instinct at all for following.
My husband has never led me to believe he was sitting around counting the ways that I am an unsubmissive wife (some of you are going to hate that phrase!). In fact, when I’ve made comments, wondering aloud if I really have the best habits in place to serve us for the next twenty years of marriage, he has generally seemed surprised. But I see symptoms, I believe. I see symptoms in my own feelings towards my husband, and I see symptoms in my husband’s ability to move and act in leadership without me trying to control the outcome. I can think of specifics.
I’d like to hear from you ladies, though; if you have anything to share, please feel free to comment here or on FB, or to email me privately at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m genuinely interested.